The Sacraments

in English 16.11.2016 09:00 | Siionin Lähetyslehti
In ecclesiastic language, sacraments refer to proceedings that are considered especially important and holy. The Bible does not mention anything about sacraments, and different churches have different numbers of sacraments. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have seven sacraments, while the churches of the Reformation have only two: Baptism and Communion. The churches of the Reformation, i.e., Protestant churches, consider as sacraments only those that are based on Jesus’s institution and command.
Audible and visible word

A characteristic feature of the sacraments is a visible substance. Indeed, they are called the visible word of God. In the beginning God created everything by and through His word alone. A person’s faith also comes by hearing the word. The word of God contains enough power to move mountains and to soften a person’s heart. The word is God’s invisible tool. The word of God is also present in the sacraments—Baptism and Communion—but in addition they both contain a visible substance. In Baptism it is water, and in Communion it is bread and wine.

Luther teaches that water without the word of God is only water, but when it is combined with the word of God it is the grace-rich water of life. Likewise, we can say that bread and wine without the word of God are only bread and wine, but when they are combined with the word of God they are the body and blood of Christ. The Redeemer Himself is invisibly yet truly present in Baptism and Communion. He Himself gives us His grace by means of visible substances. The sacraments are hidden, amazing, and incomprehensible to the mind. Beyond of their intended use the substances of the sacraments do not contain supernatural power. Nevertheless, they should be handled respectfully.

According to the simple teaching of the Bible, the word of God is to be preached to all, but the sacraments are to be given to those who have received the word and believed it. Following Jesus’s exhortation, the apostles first preached the gospel and thereafter baptized those in whose heart the Holy Spirit had engendered faith. Neither was the Communion table in the early church set for all people; only believing people gathered around the table. The sacraments are used correctly when they are received in faith. At the same time they are as if an oath of allegiance, for through them God confirms that He is faithful and merciful toward sinful man. In this way He strengthens our faith and gives us courage and hope.

Sometimes one may get the impression that man’s salvation depends on the sacraments. However, no one faces damnation because of a lack of sacraments. Only disdain for the sacraments will condemn a person. According to the word of God the sacraments will not make an unbeliever a believer, and a baptized person may give up his or her faith. Such a person needs to repent. God is merciful toward sinful man, and a penitent person cannot be denied the forgiveness of sins.

What is our attitude toward holy matters?

The sacraments are holy proceedings, meaning that Communion is not ordinary eating or drinking and Baptism is not ordinary washing. The holiness of the sacraments should also be extended to the language we use. Partaking of Communion wine and drinking alcohol are two different things, even though Communion wine usually contains alcohol.

Baptism is a sacrament of starting on a journey; it is performed only once. Communion is a sacrament of the journey, which can be participated in daily, even. Neither of the sacraments is given an age limit in the Bible, and practices vary. A suitable age and the correct practice are only in our minds and are based on our traditions. Child baptism and adult baptism are of equal value, as are also ordinary baptism and immersion baptism.

Parents may take their children along to Communion church. The children can also come to the Communion table. It is the Supper of the members of God’s family. If a child’s Communion feels strange, it is possible to ask that the child is blessed. Can we wish anything better for a child than: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the heavenly Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you?” The meaning of Communion should be taught to children simply, for example by saying that Jesus Himself is present here even though we cannot see Him. He is strengthening our faith.

Text: Yrjö Tala
Source: Vuosikirja 2006, Oikea ja väärä (Yearbook 2006, Right and wrong)
Translation: K. K.

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